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What WeightWatchers Offers That Ozempic Can’t

Jun 7, 2023 7:00 AM

What WeightWatchers Offers That Ozempic Can’t

We talk with Sima Sistani, the CEO of WeightWatchers, about applying her previous careers in social media to the company’s efforts to build a digital community.

Photo illustration with Sima Sistani
ILLUSTRATION: WIRED STAFF; ERICA SHROEDER/WEIGHT WATCHERS

ON THIS WEEK’S episode of Have a Nice Future, Gideon Lichfield and Lauren Goode are joined by WeightWatchers CEO Sima Sistani to talk about how we should think about diet culture and weight management when sophisticated appetite-suppressing drugs like Ozempic are on the rise.

Check out Lauren's Big Interview with Sima Sistani here, and in the July issue of the magazine.

Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Gideon Lichfield is @glichfield. Bling the main hotline at @WIRED.

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Note: This is an automated transcript, which may contain errors.

Gideon: People will hear the chemistry. They will hear my smoldering gaze.

Lauren: Hi, I'm Lauren Goode.

Gideon: And I'm Gideon Lichfield. And this is Have a Nice Future, a show about how fast everything is changing.

Lauren: Each week we talk to someone with big, audacious ideas about the future, and we ask them, is this the future we want?

Gideon: This week we're talking to Sima Sistani, the CEO of WeightWatchers, about body weight and health in the age of appetite-suppressingdrugs like Ozempic.

Sima (audio clip): I don't think we'd be having the same conversation if we said that these were medications that solve Alzheimer's, or Parkinson's, or cancer, or heart disease, but because we are saying that it solves obesity, suddenly it's a debate.

Gideon: Lauren, we should probably take a pause here and give a little shameless plug for WIRED’s Big Interview series.

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Lauren: A shameless plug is the only kind of plug.

Gideon: I agree.

Lauren: And I am here for it.

Gideon: Recently we launched a new series for the magazine that includes long in-depth interviews with people we think are especially interesting. When you pick up the July issue of WIRED, as I know you will, you'll see interviews with some very big names.

Lauren: That's right. And we're not going to give them all away. But as part of this series, I had the chance to go to New York last month and spend a couple of days with Sima Sistani, and ask her about WeightWatchers’ renewed mission.

Gideon: Renewed mission. You sound a little skeptical.

Lauren: Well, WeightWatchers has this interesting history. It started back in the 1960s. It was popularized by women meeting up in living rooms, sharing tips on weight loss. So from the beginning, the emphasis was on weight, and it was a membership model. It has other revenue streams too, like it sells packaged foods. And actually from the late ’70s to late ’90s, it was owned by Heinz.

Gideon: As in “Beanz Meanz Heinz.”

Lauren: Well, I was thinking the ketchup company, but what is that? “Beanz Meanz Heinz”?

Gideon: Oh, that's, that's how they advertise it in the UK. When I was growing up, the baked beans. “Beanz Meanz Heinz.”

Lauren: Oh. Oh, OK. So sure. The baked beans Heinz. At some point the company was spun out again. And then in 2018, WeightWatchers pivoted to wellness. Wellness because we were all becoming very interested in wellness.

Gideon: Thank you. Gwyneth Paltrow.

Lauren: Yes. Gwyneth Paltrow probably deserves some credit for that trend. The company also changed its name in 2018 to WW because it was—

Gideon: Because the whole concept of weight had become toxic.

Lauren: That's right. There was a lot of conversation about—

Gideon: Body shaming.

Lauren: Body shaming. Body acceptance. Exactly. And the implication in WeightWatchers was that you are supposed to lose weight and so the company said “weight” was not the word we want to use anymore. We’re WW: We are all about wellness.

Gideon: And how did that go?

Lauren: The pivot didn't go so well. Yeah. And then the pandemic really didn't help things.

Gideon: Right. Kind of hard when your whole strategy is in-person meetings.

Lauren: Mm-hmm. And when it's foundational to your whole business. So, when Sima was brought on in early 2022 to run the company, she basically decided to return WeightWatchers to its original mission, which is weight management. But she also had to make it much more compelling as a digital business because we're just not in the habit of in-person meetings as much anymore.

Gideon: OK. And how did Sima’s career set her up for this?

Lauren: Ah, good question. So she actually does have a background in social media growth. She worked as the head of media at Tumblr. And then was CEO of a live video chatting app called Houseparty. Have you ever used Houseparty?

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Gideon: Should I have?

Lauren: I cannot picture you hanging out on Houseparty, I have to say. Uh, but it was a very social app. It wasn't one-on-one like FaceTime is. It was like, have a bunch of friends just drop in on your live video chat.

Gideon: So not me.

Lauren: Right, I didn't think so. But anyway, the WeightWatchers job came about for Sima because of that need for more social growth at the company. However, I'm not quite sure if I'd call this another pivot yet, but now everyone is talking about weight loss drugs, these GLP-1 receptor medications.

Gideon: You mean like Ozempic or Wegovy or Mounjaro?

Lauren: Exactly.

Gideon: So who even needs weight tracking apps anymore when you have these drugs? How does that affect their strategy?

Lauren: And that's the question. That's exactly what I wanted to ask her about because, in some ways, these new medications feel like the future of weight loss, like a potential paradigm shift here, and it's still early days for these drugs. There are side effects. Scientists and researchers are still trying to figure out what the long-term effects of them will be, but we're kind of at a turning point in how we're talking about weight right now. And these clinical interventions have come into play. So I asked Sima all about that in our conversation and that's happening right after the break.

[Break]

Lauren: Sima, thank you so much for joining me on Have a Nice Future.

Sima: Thank you. So good to be here.

Lauren: Are you having a nice future?

Sima: I'm having a nice present. I'm anticipating a nice future.

Lauren: What makes you anticipate a nice future?

Sima: Well, I think I'm an optimist by nature, but, I mean, is there another way to be?

Lauren: Is that like a binary? If you're not an optimist, you're a nihilist? It's just not a way to live?

Sima: There's probably some gray, but I tend to be a zero and one kind of gal.

Lauren: So I brought you on today not to talk about nihilism—

Sima: [Laugh]

Lauren: Although I do wanna talk about optimism at some point later in the show. I brought you on today to talk about running WeightWatchers. First, let's talk broadly about diet culture. How has diet culture changed since you've been watching this space?

Sima: Well, I think diet culture is a reflection of our culture at large. I think that the evolution of body positivity to body neutrality was really welcome. And um, you know, this idea that we should all love our bodies no matter what shape, no matter what size, and where body positivity and body neutrality is now evolving further past is around, and, and this is my opinion, is around health equity.

Lauren: What do you mean by that?

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Sima: We all want to love our bodies, but we also need to take into consideration what living with obesity can mean for us in terms of well-being. And there's this opportunity now for us to start thinking about proactive steps to manage and prevent weight-related diseases that can have positive health outcomes and optimal quality of life. And I think that we can have that conversation now because we want to marry it alongside the fact that there should be no stigma. There should be no bias in the shape or size of somebody's body, and these are very personal decisions, but weight health is really critical for preventative measures to manage, you know, a healthy lifestyle. It's similar to how heart health reframed the conversation around chronic condition or mental health. It's reduced the stigma. It's improved accessibility, standards of care. That's what we believe weight health can be and should be the future of our space.

Lauren: You have inherited this brand that has a little bit of a contradictory past, right? We're talking about weight health and health in general but at one point in WeightWatchers' history, it was actually owned by the Heinz Company.

Sima: Mm-hmm.

Lauren: And WeightWatchers does still sell packaged foods, right, to its customer base. Or you look at something like the point system, which has been critiqued before as potentially leading people living with eating disorders down a dark path. But there's the flip side of that, which, you know, WeightWatchers is supposed to offer science-backed nutrition plans, and you can't necessarily implement that plan unless you're tracking what you're doing.

Sima: Mm-hmm.

Lauren: How do you view these contradictions? How do you chart a path forward through those?

Sima: It's not so much contradictions. It's going back to personalized care, personalized decisions, and the fact that we all have different pathways of managing our weight health. And for some they need more education and habit-building—what we call “behavior change therapy.” And to judge that as disordered feels unfair to the person who's trying to learn how to have a diet rich with healthy, nutritious foods. And what we're trying to promote is healthy habits and people being able to learn and have the tools that they need. That being said, I, I think it's important to acknowledge that there are certainly parts of our past that I'm not proud of, but I think that it's important for us to acknowledge those parts and to evolve and to continue to change. And I think it's really important if the established company in the space is acknowledging that and trying to make changes as the leader in the space.

Lauren: One of the things that you're tasked with right now is building up a community in the digital world that feels representative of what people were getting from in-person meetings. In-person meetings are such a part of the DNA of WeightWatchers, right? And there were some members who were upset recently when WeightWatchers said it wouldn't be hosting as many in-person meetings, that you were considering alternative models for that. How do you take what you've learned from working in social media? And apply that to WeightWatchers? Like, how are you actively building up the digital community?

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Sima: So, the digital community is incredibly important, but I don't wanna take away from the in-real-life community. And, you know, even when I was building Houseparty, we used to say we wanna be the next best thing to—in real life, because that's still the humanity of being with somebody in person, I think can't be beat. And when you think about the places in the world where people have the most longevity, where they have the best, more optimal well-being—these are called Blue Zones.

Lauren: Mm-hmm.

Sima: And those places in the world, it's not just about how people move or how they eat, but it's their social circles that keep them connected to each other. And so, with WeightWatchers, I believe we're building a digital Blue Zone. We wanna connect people. They come for the weight loss. They come for the weight health, but they stay for the network that keeps them accountable to that optimal quality of life. And I think that that's a part that a lot of people miss about what makes WeightWatchers special and certainly, why it was such a movement in the early days, and that's what we want to come back to. But the reality now is most people, if we wanna meet them where they're at, we have to figure it out as a digital-first solution and then lean into the intentional moments where people can get together and gather for real.

Lauren: I'm really glad you brought up the Blue Zones. Because I love reading about the Blue Zones, even though some of it may be anecdotal. And when you're talking about a population like centenarians, there are so few of them that you're looking at a relatively small sample of people and asking them to recall their lifestyle habits from 70 years ago. I think we should all just retire in Sardinia, although it can't, you know, it can't fit all of us.

Sima: I'm in.

Both: Let's do it.

Lauren: Um, we have to talk about the rise of these GLP-1 medications, things like Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, which are prescribed for diabetes, but also are having a tremendous effect on weight loss. I was actually hoping for the folks who are listening to this who have been hearing Ozempic tossed around and, and see it now as like a part of our culture. Could you just explain what these drugs are and how they work?

Sima: So, these drugs work by being an appetite-suppressant and mimicking gut hormones that connect the gut with the brain and let us know when we are hungry. And what they're effectively doing is addressing biological underpinnings of living with obesity. And for a long time, we prescribed, so to speak, behavior change, intensive behavior change therapy, and that was the only tool in our toolkit. And now we can acknowledge and understand that there are these genetic and biological factors as well, and allow ourselves another tool in the toolkit to address the care that someone might need and to address their weight health.

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Lauren: When you joined WeightWatchers, one of the biggest moves you made right off the bat was the acquisition of a company called Sequence, which is a telehealth company that you're planning on integrating with WeightWatchers where people would be able to get prescriptions for these medications. Am I understanding that correctly?

Sima: That's right. It's a platform. It allows access to clinicians who can then determine whether it's medically appropriate and then if so, prescribe the medications. We don't make any money from the medications. The prescription is sent to the pharmacy. Uh, but then what Sequence offers in addition to the ability to have access to this network of clinicians who have the right training around prescribing these medications and continuing to care for it. And I wanna pause on that for a minute because it's incredibly important. Less than 1% of physicians actually have any kind of experience with obesity care management. My brother, he's a doctor. He had one nutritional science class his entire tenure in medical school. Um, and so it's really important that not only are the doctors, the clinicians trained in obesity care, but they then know how to help manage the ongoing journey of being on these medications. So then Sequence is a subscription-based care model, essentially. It's a care team in your pocket. And also these medications are incredibly expensive. And so what Sequence provides is managing the insurance process.

Lauren: If people go off the medications—there was a story in The New York Times recently about how some people are finding they, they do gain the weight back and they have other side effects too, if they've been on one of these GLP-1 drugs and then they go off of it. So the idea for WeightWatchers to be a part of that process is, well, if you go off the drug, then we're helping you manage that as well. Then, then you go back to, to calorie counting?

Sima: Well, managing your points is what we would say, but—

Lauren: OK.

Sima: But yes, with the intended use of weight loss, we're still learning a lot, and the trials have shown that when you go off the medications, you gain two-thirds of the weight back. Now, I think that what we are interested in observing is, when paired with the WeightWatchers program—and we are creating and developing a program that will be specific to people on a GLP-1journey—is there a way to at least titrate the dosage to a minimus amount that allows the person to manage the relapsing, chronic condition that they have while also, you know, continuing their adherence to healthy habits. And that's gonna look different for different people. And that's why the care team is incredibly important. But that's also why combining the Sequence platform with the WeightWatchers Behavior Change Nutrition program is incredibly powerful as people figure out and puzzle together the right care model for themselves.

Lauren: You know what's really interesting about this? When you and I spoke earlier, you mentioned at one point the Atkins diet, and you seemed pretty proud of the fact that, you know, back in the day when Atkins was all the rage, WeightWatchers didn't jump aboard. WeightWatchers stuck to its science-backed nutrition plans that it was offering people. You didn't tell people to go bonkers and eat intensive protein and cheese. And then even going further back, I mean long before you and I were probably even, you know, paying attention to WeightWatchers during the 1990s, the company was actually quite opposed to diet drugs like Fen-Phen, which was later found to cause serious heart valve damage. Now we're in this era where I'm, you're embracing these medications, you're saying this is a new wave of something and we actually wanna be a part of this. Can you talk a little bit about that shift and what is leading you to think that way?

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Sima: That history is exactly right. And I think that the difference here is that these medications, though just now—uh, I guess it since, um, 2019 was the first version, and then 2021 was the second version of the GLP-1s that was approved for weight loss—they have been around since 2015 addressing the condition of diabetes. And so there's been a lot of research and we were learning a lot. And it was clear that these new modalities were a game changer and that these were a science-backed game changer that we could see actually having an impact on the health outcomes of our members. The science was there and we felt comfortable with embracing the clinical pathway.

Lauren: Do you think it's possible today to have a conversation about weight in general that is positive?

Sima: I certainly hope so. I think we're doing our best to do that. I think that there has been this false dichotomy that seeking or wanting weight loss is at odds with loving your body or is pro-diet-culture and, and we are so in the middle of this conversation, but we really believe that you can love your body. That, and you can want to also lose weight and especially when it's for your health. But in my case, I lost 60 pounds on WeightWatchers and certainly would've impacted my health over the long term. In that moment though, I wanted to get back into my work clothes. I wanted to be able to walk around the block without losing my breath.

Lauren: And you felt judged when you would tell people that.

Sima: I absolutely felt judged, and I think that it's important for us to now have the hard conversation and not shy away from what we do, which is, you know, helping people to manage and prevent weight-related diseases for positive health outcomes. And we, we need to reframe that discussion. We, we need to be a part of it so that it is a positive discussion because the fact that even having the discussion can be viewed in some cases as negatively, or we worry about the cancel culture around that, that is what continues to drive the stigma in this space. That's what continues to drive the bias, and I don't think we'd be having the same conversation if we said that these were medications that solve Alzheimer's or Parkinson's or cancer or heart disease.

Lauren: Interesting.

Sima: But because we are saying that it solves obesity, suddenly it's a debate.

Lauren: When you, when you say cancel culture, I mean, is that something that factors into your thinking about your messaging around WeightWatchers?

Sima: I think that it factored into our thinking before. Look, I wasn't here when we changed the name to WW.

Lauren: Mm-hmm.

Sima: But I will say that I think a big part of that was a move toward wellness felt like it would align better with the times. And, you know, when I joined, I wanted us to re-embrace our heritage and acknowledge our past and be a part of the change moving forward, because wellness is about achieving an optimal health. And WeightWatchers is focused on achieving the absence of illness. It's about the optimal functioning, and the way we achieve that is through weight loss. Now, once you do that, you can aspire for optimal health. You can aspire for overall satisfaction and happiness, but we're not in the happiness business. We're in the health-related, quality-of-life business. And that's what our focus needs to be on. So, you know, I would say at the risk of having that tough conversation and, and really letting everybody know who's at our company that it's OK. And frankly, they felt so unlocked and grateful because so many people who come to work at WeightWatchers are there because the program has had an impact on their lives or the lives of their loved ones. You come to work for a company like WeightWatchers because you're truly passionate about this space and what we do, and before when we were trying to say, “No, no, no, no, no. Look over here, we're wellness.”

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Lauren: We're wellness. Right.

Sima: We were, we weren't being authentic or true to ourselves and, right. And I think we're, well—

Lauren: Wellness was being marketed to a lot of people as a salve for a lot of problems that were much deeper than wellness could solve.

Sima: That's, that's exactly right.

Lauren: You mentioned earlier in the podcast that you're an optimist. What makes you most optimistic these days?

Sima: You know, I'm looking at success metrics around reducing disease, uh, achieving, you know, helping people achieve remission in a chronic condition. Advancing prevention, improving health-related, you know, quality of life indicators, helping marginalized communities have better access to treat and manage and prevent obesity. I feel like there's a paradigm shift happening right now. And we have the opportunity to sort of harness that energy and attention to do good.

Lauren: Sima Sistani, CEO of WeightWatchers, thank you so much for joining me on, Have a Nice Future. I hope you have a very nice future.

Sima: I hope you have a very nice future.

[Break]

Gideon: So I felt like it was really interesting listening to Sima there. Because I felt like what she's doing is she is crafting this whole narrative around the role that weight management can play and should play in health. And she's doing that as she's trying to reorient the company. It's this sort of very weird, intricate dance between talking about science and talking about health and talking about the brand and what it's trying to be. Did you find it convincing?

Lauren: You know, when I had the chance to interview her in New York for the magazine piece I mentioned earlier, I asked about who ultimately determines that someone who maybe has a larger frame or a bigger body or is carrying more weight on them equals unhealthy.

Lauren: And she said, without missing a beat, scientists.

Gideon: But does science have a clear and unambiguous answer on that relationship between health and weight? Because it seems to me like the fads have changed in science as well.

Lauren: Right? And that answer assumes that the science is also not biased, which we know sometimes it is. And people are failed by their doctors all the time, unfortunately. Uh, people say that they go into a doctor's office and they're judged. Even if they have a chronic condition, that means that they have gained weight. Um, you know, they may be perceived as lazy or that it is something that their own behavior is irresponsible in some way. And also, we talked about a metric like BMI, body mass index, which has been shown to be flawed because of the data sets that it is based on. And yet scientists do still rely on that as a measurement of people's weight health.

Gideon: Right. And Sima says it's the best one we have available.

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Lauren: Right. So until we come up with something better, this is what we're relying on. Along with other factors.

Gideon: I see her trying to thread this needle. I admire very much the way that she's trying to do it. I'm mixed on how convinced I am by some of the things she's saying. So on the one hand, I think the parallels she draws between what she calls weight health and mental health is very compelling. We've destigmatized mental illness by reframing it as mental health and now people are much more comfortable talking about depression or bipolar disorder or other difficulties without it being something to be ashamed of. So I can see that trying to reframe the conversation around weight as being about health really makes sense. But then there was also this survey that came out in April from the American Heart Association. Uh, about diets and how good they are for your heart and what they found was that surprise, surprise: Things like the Mediterranean diet that has nothing really about tracking your weight, but is about balancing certain food types, is very good for your heart. Some of the diets that are designed to help you lose weight like paleo and keto are actually maybe not so good for your heart. And so I feel like there's a tension between the concepts of health that Sima’s promoting and is saying are scientific. And some of the other concepts of health that are out there, not necessarily in contradiction, but there's a competition here for what is the measure of health that we should pay attention to the most.

Lauren: Right? And frankly, I think keeping a Mediterranean diet just sounds a lot more fun—

Gideon: Oh, way more fun.

Lauren: —then maybe points tracking and an app and eating some packaged food because you know that it's going to fit within your points for that day. In both conversations I've had with her recently, she has brought up Blue Zones. It started as a National Geographic–funded project many years ago where researchers identified these Blue Zones around the world where people tend to live very long, healthy lives.

Gideon: Right. There was some Greek island and there was some Japanese mountain or uh, yeah, I, I forget exactly where. And uh—

Lauren: Also here in the states, Loma Linda, California, right where there is a large population of Seventh Day Adventists. I've read a couple of the books. Um, some of it's really fascinating stuff. Some of it is anecdata, but a lot of it has to do with lifestyle. It's not just about what food you consume or how much food you consume or whether you're doing calorie restriction or that sort of thing. It has to do with how active you are. It has to do with whether you consume alcohol or alcohol in moderation. It has to do with the community, uh, the people who surround you and how young people tend to care for their elders or neighbors look after one another and, and all of these things sound really appealing and like, wouldn't it all be great if we could figure out a way to live our lives like this? And she seems to find that very attractive too but once again, it's a little bit at odds with this idea of, and so now we should embrace clinical interventions and also you should probably, you know, keep to 25 points per day in our weight tracking app.

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Gideon: But of course not all of us can go and live in Loma Linda or in Sardinia. So maybe for some people, those weight tracking apps or drugs are helpful.

Lauren: Are you telling me we're not opening a WIRED Costa Rica office anytime soon?

Gideon: You know, if we do that and everybody at WIRED lives to a hundred, think of the pensions we're gonna have to pay.

Lauren: Oh my goodness. That's true. The pensions. I like how you go straight to the pension.

[Laughter]

Gideon: So Sima seems pretty convinced that WeightWatchers can coexist with these new drugs like Ozempic. Were you convinced?

Lauren: I am because the drugs are so new and she brought that up and I think that there's still a lot to learn about the long-term effects of using these drugs and the side effects, of course, but also just how effective they are long term. You know, it was interesting when I was in the WeightWatchers offices in New York last month, and this isn't something that was included in the written piece. I had the opportunity to shadow her in a meeting. And present in that meeting were WeightWatchers’ head of product, um, a doctor, folks who work on their data and analytics team, and they had been running consumer surveys across people who both are on WeightWatchers and just people who they found on the internet, and taking the temperature of people around how they're feeling about Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, this category of drugs, and trying to figure out how they either revamp their app or provide education or just market to people who are considering these medications. Because, for example, one of the side effects of these drugs so far that's been reported is the loss of muscle mass. And so WeightWatchers is trying to figure out, well, does that mean we encourage people in our app, if they indicate they're on one of these medications, we tell them to consume more protein, and how do we guide them toward that? So they really do see it as coexisting. They think that this does not completely obliterate their business, that there's still going to be a place in the world in society for a weight management app like this.

Gideon: I also like how she spoke up in defense of these drugs by saying, nobody questions the need for an Alzheimer's drug or a cancer drug.

Lauren: Mm-hmm.

Gideon: But the moment you start talking about an obesity drug, there is judgment and there is debate about whether or not it's the right thing for people to take. And I think she was arguing sensibly for just getting rid of that baggage around the fact that people take a drug to manage their weight.

Lauren: I'll ask you the same question that I've asked her now. Do you think it's possible to have a conversation about weight in today's day and age that isn't so loaded?

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Gideon: Not yet.

Lauren: Why is that?

Gideon: Because body image is still so central to how so many things are marketed, whether it's in movies, whether it's in advertising, we are shown pictures of what the ideal body looks like. Uh, we're told that success and happiness and wealth are associated with looking a certain way. We are being shown a lot more body diversity these days than we were, in advertising campaigns and in popular culture, but that's still the minority. I think the cultural expectation is still around sliminess and defined muscles and a certain conception of beauty.

Lauren: Mm-hmm. And youth.

Gideon: And youth, yes.

Lauren: We haven't quite yet figured out the drug I think that just reverses age. But once, I mean, once that comes out, you know that Hollywood is going to co-opt it.

Gideon: Slimming and rejuvenating all at once. Right.

Lauren: The, the blood of interns.

Gideon: That's why we hire them.

[Laughter]

Lauren: But, uh, yeah, I mean, I do think as long as Hollywood to, not to call out an entire establishment, but Hollywood is a part of this conversation—

Gideon: Yeah.

Lauren: You see certain celebrities right now who are just getting very thin, very quickly, and it does something sometimes in your brain, particularly if you are vulnerable to body dysmorphia, like you see that and you, it’s like there’s something in your brain that says like, should I be like that? Is that the norm? Can I be like that? Can I attain that? It's really hard to break away from that.

Gideon: It really is. I was talking earlier about how I see Sima trying to craft this narrative about what WeightWatchers has been, a company that's all about weight as a bad thing, to what it's becoming—weight as a component in managing your health—and how she's trying to draw a single narrative thread from one to the other. And it feels very familiar, because I feel like when you lead a company or when you lead any sort of brand—and I've encountered this, leading WIRED—is you are trying to tell a story. That's what so much of what leadership is. You tell a story about what it has been, what it is now, what it is becoming in the future. And that story is for external consumption because you're trying to sell people on the thing that you're making, and it's also for internal consumption. You are trying to motivate the people who work for you to make the brand, make the thing into what is going to be in the future. And you're trying to tell them a story about their role in all of that. And so I'm very sensitive now to the ways in which leaders craft those stories. And where I think I see the seams. But I'm also very sympathetic to it because I feel like I've been trying to do exactly the same thing with this publication.

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Lauren: That makes a lot of sense, right. As editor in chief, you're really storyteller in chief. One other thing that she and I discussed that didn't make it into the print story or the interview, is this idea of how our food system in the United States is so broken.

Gideon: Mmm.

Lauren: And there are very real food inequity issues here. So we have a system where certain crops are subsidized, right? So there's just more of those. And things like high fructose corn syrup finds its way into more and more of our products that we end up consuming and we don't even realize that we're eating. We think we're eating healthy, and actually we're consuming processed or ultra-processed foods. There are food deserts where there are just parts of the country where people don't have access to good food. What they do have access to is fast food, or they have access to ultra-processed foods, so that contributes right to a larger obesity problem. So when you give someone an app, or a program, or a system or a community and you say, look, you have all these external forces that are really fighting against you to be healthy, but we're gonna give you at least one tool that you can use to try to control a little bit of your own life and your own destiny and your own health. I think that that can still be really appealing to people, particularly for communities that aren't going to have access to these clinical interventions.

Gideon: I guess so. I mean, the cynical part of me says, why are we charging people money to fix the broken food system that the country they live in should fix?

Lauren: Ah, I think I asked you a version of this question a couple podcasts ago and you said, capitalism.

Gideon: I may have said capitalism.

Lauren: Yes. That's the answer.

Gideon: Indeed.

Gideon: That's our show for today. Thank you for listening. Have a Nice Future is hosted by me, Gideon Litchfield.

Lauren: And me, Lauren Goode. If you like the show, you should tell us, leave us a rating and a review wherever you get your podcasts. And don't forget to subscribe so you can get new episodes each week.

Gideon: You can also email us on nicefuture@wired.com. Tell us what you are worried about, what excites you, any questions you have about the future, and we'll try to answer them with our guests.

Lauren: Have A Nice Future is a production of Condé Nast Entertainment. Danielle Hewitt from Prologue Projects produces the show. Our assistant producer is Arlene Arevalo. Our engineer is Benjamin Frisch.

Gideon: See you back here next Wednesday and until then, have a nice future.

Lauren: Have a nice future.

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Gideon Lichfield is the editor in chief of all editions of WIRED. He left the UK in 1998, citing an aversion to beer, Marmite, and football soccer, and lived in Mexico City, Moscow, and Jerusalem before moving to the US. He was previously editor in chief of MIT Technology Review,… Read more
Global Editorial Director

Lauren Goode is a senior writer at WIRED covering consumer tech issues. She focuses on the intersection of new technologies and humanity, often through experiential or investigative personal essays. Her coverage areas include communications apps, trends in commerce, AR and VR, subscription services, data and device ownership, and how Silicon… Read more
Senior Writer

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